Every day to and fro from work, I pass a narrow bylane in Connaught Place that has two very distinct shops standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder. One is your regular hole-in-wall theka, the other a newly revamped, snazzily done liquor shop called Shauque. Their proximity makes for an interesting study in contrasts.
At shop number one, there is usually a mob of guys — dudes sporting thick gold bracelets, pot-bellied uncles, and even some baby-faced boys — jostling at the counter, holding out money as they shout an unending stream of orders. The lone man at the counter and his assistant look completely unruffled as they go about locating bottles in the dimly lit and cramped interiors. The bottles are then quickly wrapped by customers in crumpled newspapers or shoved into black plastic bags, baggy pockets or car boots. With all the furtive actions and guilty looks that characterise their actions, the men may as well have been planning an anarchist revolution. All in all, it’s a scene straight out of a sordid, shady, B-grade flick.
I’ve never yet seen a lady there in the past twelve months. I doubt the storekeeper and regulars have either, for my (very nervous) presence there once, to purchase a bottle of merlot, seemed to raise quite a few eyebrows. I’ve never gone back.
Cut to shop number two. This joint venture between Diageo and DSIIDC has enormous low level windows, three separate entrances marked ‘pints and nips’, ‘spirits and beer’, and ‘wine’, brightly-lit air conditioned interiors, racks stocked with a refreshing range of choices, and even proper racks to store wines, for goodness’ sake! It invites you to browse leisurely and pick to your heart’s delight.
The first time I visited, I had to clamp down on the subconscious fear and embarrasment that a theka usually stirs up in me. After years of making my brother buy on my behalf, it was nothing but sheer joy to walk in uninhibited, head held high.
A similar feeling had swept over me when I visited those huge, women-friendly liquor shops that litter Goa and Mumbai. I was jealous and angry then, bemoaning the negligible number of similar spaces in the Capital. Till date, only a small number of walk in, self-service liquor stores exist in the city. Now, this freedom from years of alcohol bondage tastes delicious.
It’s high time the powers-that-be break down all dirty thekas and build consumer-friendly stores in their place. Some may see it as a move to encourage alcohol consumption; so be it. Apart from making liquor buying a pleasurable and safe experience, the move would be highly symbolic, bringing down the mental barriers with the walls. It may seem like a small thing, but it’d be a giant step, one that is long overdue.